Microsoft's Do Not Track Default in IE 10 May Break Rules

A new Do Not Track spec says that browsers should give users the chance to choose, rather than making opt-in the default.

Microsoft€™s decision to make Do Not Track the default feature in its upcoming Internet Explorer 10 browser may not fly after the release of the latest draft specification for the feature.

The latest Do Not Track draft specification, released June 6, reportedly states that browsers with the feature must require users to turn it on, rather than€”as Microsoft officials are proposing€”making it so that IE 10 users have it turned on by default, and they must turn it off if they want a change.

That move, announced by Microsoft late last month, drew the ire of advertisers, who said the software giant€™s €œunilateral decision€ was contrary to what other browser makers€”including Mozilla, Google, Apple and even Microsoft with IE 9€”are doing and to what the advertisers had agreed to in talks with federal agencies and tech companies.

Microsoft officials argued that the decision showed the company€™s commitment to user privacy over advertisers€™ gains.

However, the new Do Not Track spec€”being developed by a group comprising browser vendors, privacy advocates, tech companies and advertisers€”is explicit in its wording over making Do Not Track an opt-in feature, according to the spec published in Wired.

According to the spec, an €œordinary user agent MUST NOT send a Tracking Preference signal without a user€™s explicit consent. Example: The user agent€™s privacy preferences pane includes controls for configuring the Tracking Preference signal. Example: On first run, the user agent prompts the user to configure the Tracking Preference signal.€

In other words, the browser€”or the €œordinary user agent€€”can€™t make the choice for the user. Instead, when it€™s first used, the browser must give users a way to decide whether to opt in to the Do Not Track feature.

That notion is reiterated later on, adding that while the Do Not Track spec€”which eventually will be set by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)€”is voluntary, Microsoft, if it keeps Do Not Track as a default setting for IE 10, can€™t claim to be in compliance with the W3C recommendation. Otherwise, it would run afoul of such agencies as the Federal Trade Commission.

The Do Not Track effort is seen as a compromise between advertisers and businesses looking to make money on the Internet and consumers and privacy advocates who worry about the amount of data such companies as Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple are collecting on their customers and how that data is being given and used by advertisers. Once in place, the Do Not Track feature would let users decide against being tracked online by third-party advertisers, who look to use such personal information collected by users€™ online habits to help them more easily target advertising.

Advertiser compliance with the Do Not Track is voluntary.

In deciding to make Do Not Track the default setting, Microsoft officials said they were erring on the side of privacy.

€œThis decision reflects our commitment to providing Windows customers an experience that is €˜private by default€™ in an era when so much user data is collected online,€ Dean Hachamovitch, corporate vice president of Internet Explorer at Microsoft, wrote in a May 31 blog post. €œWhile some people will say that this change is too much and others that it is not enough, we think it is progress and that consumers will favor products designed with their privacy in mind over products that are designed primarily to gather their data.€

However, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA)€”which counts Microsoft as among its members€”blasted the decision, saying it undermined the work that had already been done in developing the Do Not Track spec.

€œThe DAA is very concerned that this unilateral decision by one browser maker€”made without consultation within the self-regulatory process€”may ultimately narrow the scope of consumer choices, undercut thriving business models, and reduce the availability and diversity of the Internet products and services that millions of American consumers currently enjoy at no charge,€ Stu Ingis, general counsel of the DAA, said in a statement May 31.

Others argued that Do Not Track doesn€™t go far enough. While it will keep most advertisers from sending out targeted ads, it doesn€™t stop them or Web companies from collecting information from online users.